Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Give Them An Inch...

You know that old saying - give them an inch, and they'll take a mile.

This always bodes true with the topic I covered in my last post (and several others), concerning the idea of Universal Daycare programming in Canada.

We had a lengthy chat about the idea at work today and the completely agreed idea between all staff members was that while it sounds like it would be a good idea for families who are struggling, they really have no idea what it could really mean to the whole system.

We started off discussing the fact that many families, especially ones in the lower end of the 'middle income' bracket, were having a hard time because the cost of childcare can take a huge chunk from their earnings and make it a continual struggle. For example, I work part time but the amount of hours my son attends the center each month hovers right around the 100 hour mark, which is considered full time. I bring home about $1000 to $1300 a month after deductions each month, but a full time space is $640. It seems ridiculous for me to work 21 days a month and only have $400 to $700 left after paying daycare. It is a constant struggle and I go through this every month just like everyone else.

But I see both sides of the coin, which is an uncommon perspective and I think it gives me a much greater understanding of how everything works. All talk of 'tax payers dollars' aside, this is what we discussed further: the after effects of accepting 'govt funding'....

About 6 years ago, Alberta started a program for Accreditation of daycares and registered dayhomes. In order to receive the Staff Wage Enhancement funding and other such funding goodies (like Program Funding, Technological Funding, etc), a center now needed to be Accredited. It was a choice - but at the same time, a campaign was started across the province to guide parents into looking for 'Accredited' centers.

What is accreditation? It's something above and beyond the regular, basic requirements for daycares and dayhomes. You pick some goals to achieve each year (which might be updating daycare furniture, buying more preschool toys and games, etc) and then prove that you have done this the following year. There is more to it than that - the first year and then every 3 years after that, 'Validation Experts' visit each center to check on everything and see if the proof is really there, blah blah blah. This is on top of and separate from the regular inspections that each center has each year from the Daycare Licensing Expert, Health Inspector, Fire Inspector, etc. This is to get centers and dayhomes to work 'beyond' the basic requirements.

Okay so we agreed to do it because it seemed like if we didn't, we would 'look bad'. "Oh - your center is not accredited? Well I won't have my child going to a place like THAT!". We worried it would effect our business AND that it could become something that turned into a requirement in the future, rather than a 'choice'. So we did it, ended up as one of the first 150 centers in the province to achieve it, and we are just into our 5th year now. Yay us, right?

Um... not always. It seemed like every time we improved or achieved a goal, they would just want more. For example - we used to have lots of cute little pictures up on the walls that we purchased in those typical school packs but they were like drawings, cartoony type pictures. For accreditation, we were told that it should be REAL photos of children, to help them 'relate' more. So down came our cartoons and we went around for the next year finding photograph-style posters. Yay us.

Oh - not quite. Next year, we were told that we did not have enough cultures represented in our photographs. So for our next goal, we made up all sorts of posters, theme walls, etc showing as many different cultures as we could possibly fit. We also bought more multicultural toys, books, instruments, costumes, dolls, etc. We bought display cases for those cute collectable dolls showcasing, again, as many cultures as we could fit on the 12 shelves. Yay us!

Oh - not quite. Next year, we were told that we didnt have enough 'differing abilities' shown on our walls, toys and books. So yes - off we went finding more. Pictures of children with seeing eye dogs, wheel chairs, leg braces, etc. Those went up on the walls too (with the added challenge of representing many cultures as well within THOSE specialized photos). We got out our books and toys to show that indeed we DID actually have things for differing abilities that the inspector had overlooked (and not asked for, only adding to the final report that we did NOT have them).....

So there we sat with umpteen zillion photos covering every piece of wall space. It was cluttered and made all the rooms look 10 times smaller. But yay us.

Oh - not quite. Next year, we were told that we did not have enough artwork done by the children showcased. Oh really? Well where the hell are we going to put it????? We were told that we should have more photos of the current children on the walls (we did this every year for the past lord-only-knows how long, but had run out of room with the new additions so were reduced to two story boards of our kids' photos)....

Now we are one year away from our next official site visit and you know what we did? We took it ALL down. Everything. All of the photos of various cultures, abilities, 'real' photos, are gone. We were repainting the daycare as another goal and decided that we were not going to put it all back up. Now we are back to nice clean walls with children's artwork displayed in appropriate places, and cute fun cartoony type things on the wall but NOT people/children. Only fun little animals, book-reading monsters in story corner, etc. We put everything else into little books and binders that are available for the children to peruse whenever they like. Small photos put onto jump-rings to make them into flip books. And we feel SO much better. It's not so claustrophobic in there now.

But we have to admit, we are a bit concerned about the visit next year. Will they notice? Will they complain? The way we see it, if we take it all down, they don't see all the different multi-levels to one-up us with every year. We are supposed to be concentrating on helping these young kiddos be ready for school, have a safe place to play and learn while their parents are at work, and help them with any of their difficulties. Why should we be freaking out about not having enough of whatever it is the inspectors decide we should have. It's nowhere in the regulations and I think we go above and beyond those basic regulations every single day as it is. Small center, more staff than required, extremely long-term reliable staff in fact, and a family atmosphere where every parent knows every staff member on site and vice versa. Is our center 'bad' or 'sub-par' because the walls are not buried under hundreds of photos from around the world? Is it below-standard because we like to have nice bright cheery walls that make the space appear even larger, and an easy focus on the kids' own work on the bulletin boards? It was like sensory overload in there for the past 5 years. It feels refreshing and light now.

So we shall see what happens. In the meantime, we spent almost a grand on new chairs and a new table, put in new carpets that are softer, bought a honking huge new train table, got cool coloured sand for the indoor tables, bought new science kits and magnet sets, we have books completely up the wazoo because we are addicted to Scholastic. And the three story gorgeous new play house for 12 inch figures (cant call it a Barbie house cos that's sexist, or something, even though all the kids and parents call it that lol).... we've bought new outdoor equipment, entirely new kitchen center sets, and so on - but all of that got ignored over the years because of the focus that was on our walls.

If we do not pass accreditation, we lose a lot of funding including the staff wage enhancement. Some might say 'oh well, too bad, it's tax payer dollars anyway'. Yes it is and I agree, but this is where the govt gets you over a barrel with enticing little games of funding and benefits - take it away and we either have to all take a pay cut that puts us dangerously close to minimum wage after being there 10 years each, or we have to increase the parent's monthly fee, which hurts their finances. Ouch. It SUCKS and I wish we had never gotten involved in the first place, but we felt forced. There are booklets out and about for parents detailing how accredited centers are so great, entire walls at parent groups detailing it, and we now get phone calls from parents asking if we are accredited.

Guess what? We are the same center with the same staff, in the same building, always purchasing improvements whenever money is available, the same in every way as we were BEFORE there was such a thing as accreditation - but parents are taught now to shy away from 'those unaccredited centers'. So here we are, and we are stuck. But we learned something - if the govt gives you money, they take more control with every dollar chucked your way.

The consensus at work today during this discussion was absolutely completely that if a govt gets in one day that pushes Universal Daycare, we will close. One staff member said "I am GONE" before the question was fully asked. We have lived first hand what can happen as more and more funding is promised and we felt like we were under a microscope for all the wrong reasons that whole time.... My question was "If we are feeling unreasonable pressure from what little amount of funding we get TODAY, what will happen if the govt is giving us over 90% of our monthly income?". And my coworker said "I am GONE" about 2 seconds before the director said "I will have to close my doors".

That is pretty darn sad.

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